Short hops for a long weekend
Paris and Amsterdam have long been our default options for a city break, but there are lots of less predictable options worth exploring…
Stavanger is Aberdeen’s twin city in Norway, but there’s a lot more to the city than just being Norway’s oil capital. The flight time is just over an hour from Aberdeen, with flights being provided by a combination of SAS
Head for Gamle Stavanger, the old city, which combines gorgeous white painted wooden houses with cobbled streets and the overwhelming temptation to stare inside people’s living rooms. Sticking with the past, the city’s Iron Age Farm is great for family trips and the Archaeological Museum has some fascinating exhibits.
In spring and summer, Flor og Fjære is one of the city’s most visited attractions. It’s an unlikely horticultural paradise which has been created on a rocky island in the middle of the fjord. The day trip includes the boat trip and a three course meal in the restaurant and costs around £120 per person. Those in search of an adrenaline rush and with a contempt for gravity, can head about 16km from the city via bus and ferry and a bit of a hike, to try base jumping from Preikestolen, a 600 metre high rectangular cliff that juts above the Lysefjorden. Specialist travel insurance and pre-booking is a must.
As with anywhere in Norway, Stavanger is expensive, particularly when you get the bill in a restaurant or bar. Expect to pay around £8 for a pint, £90 for a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant or £10 in the local McDonalds.
Latvia’s capital is around two and a half hours flight time from Aberdeen, via Air Baltic. Its charming combination of UNESCO listed Art Nouveau architecture, an Old City with winding streets and a huge selection of bars and restaurants makes it a great choice for a long weekend away. Hotels are relatively inexpensive, with the Grand Poet Hotel by Semarah and the Neiburgs Hotel, the city’s two top rated places to stay, both coming in under £130 per night. The Grand Poet also has a fabulous spa if you need to unwind.
If you prefer a more natural break, autumn in Riga offers opportunities for hiking, cycling, water sports and five beaches to stroll along. If you choose to visit in December, then cosiness is the main theme, as the Old Town Square hosts a traditional Christmas market complete with hot chocolate and local delicacies. Riga boasts some great design shops, fashion stores and interesting galleries. Riija offers a curated collection of Latvian design covering everything from ceramics to bedlinen, while gallery ETMO majors on limited edition or one-off creations in glass, ceramics and textiles. Pienene specialises in natural cosmetics from Latvia and organic products including toys. Bergs is the leading designer fashion store and there are some great bookshops. A trip to Valmiermuiža’s Beer Embassy should yield some interesting souvenirs.
Aside from the architecture, Riga’s charms lie in its quirkiness. There can’t be many cities where you can see a statue of a monkey cosmonaut, visit a hat museum or have dinner in a burlesque hospital-themed restaurant. If you have a taste for the unusual and slightly macabre, then the P. Stradins Museum of the History of Medicine should be high on your to-do list, while boy racers should head out of town to the auto-sport leisure and training complex 333 for a variety of high octane thrills.
Gdansk may seem like an unlikely choice for a city break, given its history as the industrial port where workers broke the Communist stronghold over the country, but it has a lot of the ingredients that make for a great city break – heritage and picturesque buildings, shopping, nightlife, attractions and interesting food. It also has the advantage of being very inexpensive and just over two hours flight time from Aberdeen with Wizz Air. We found return flights in September from £42 per person, just with a carry-on bag. A mid-range restaurant should be under £30 for two and beer is around £2 a pint.
The Old Town was flattened in World War II, but the medieval buildings of the 1500s have been rebuilt, so there are lots of delightful walking routes through charming squares and alleyways, or along the old harbour and wharfs. The Second World War Museum is a magnet for military history buffs, as are the ruins at Westerplatte, site of the first WW II battle. The 700 year old Wisłoujście Fortress and the Gdansk Astronomical Clock, as well as the shipyard museum give an
overview of the city’s troubled past.
There are a good selection of commercial galleries worth browsing, and the farmers market offers unusual delicacies. The city’s Designer Outlet Shopping Centre has over 100 brands from Hilfiger to Nike, but isn’t that great for bargain prices. If you’re looking for something tasty to bring home, try Ciuciu, Gdansk’s confectionary company, who often hold candy-making workshops or have live demonstrations and free samples. Sweet!